THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Following what has literally been decades in the making, 2021 could be the year that marks a major turning point in the evolution of one of Western Australia’s most anticipated critical metals projects. By Mark Fraser
With its Kalgoorlie Nickel Project (KNP), Ardea Resources (ASX: ARL) is confident it is sitting on one of the largest nickel-cobalt ore bodies in the developed world – a boast which is not unreasonable given it has a current resource inventory of 826 million tonnes of ore grading 0.7 per cent nickel and 0.046 per cent cobalt (for 5.8 Mt of contained nickel metal and 384,000t of contained cobalt).
Sitting within the western portion of the KNP tenements just 70 kilometres to the north west of Kalgoorlie-Boulder is the Goongarrie Nickel Cobalt Project (GNCP), which on its own contains resources that extend over 25km of strike.
Here the company has a resource – using a nickel cut-off grade of 0.5% – of 259 million tonnes at 0.7% nickel and 0.046% cobalt for 1.82 million tonnes and 119,200 tonnes of contained metal respectively.
These numbers were the result of a resource upgrade at Goongarrie, which Ardea announced on the day before this year’s RIU Explorers Conference in WA, where the junior presented during the opening day.
While at the podium, the company’s managing director and chief executive Andrew Penkethman was keen to make it clear that this mineralised reboot included the addition of 2,590 tonnes of contained scandium to the inventory.
It also meant the high grade component of the KNP was now 60 million tonnes at 1% nickel and 0.074 per cent cobalt for 595,000 tonnes of contained nickel and 44 tonnes of contained cobalt.
With numbers like this, Penketham suggested, the company is confident it is well placed to provide the world with essential supplies of ethically-sourced nickel and cobalt, along with other critical minerals like scandium and the rare earths duo of neodymium and cerium.
“With our ASX resource update released to the market yesterday, the core takeaway there is the 60 million tonnes at 1 per cent nickel (which) demonstrates high grade continuity,” he said.
“Our current base case is a 2 million tonnes per annum processing plant (at the GNCP), so you can see in sight ample production capacity.
“And again I’d just like to stress that Goongarrie is only the start of the KNP resource update – the next cab off the rank is Highway, located 30 kilometres to the north, so it is within easy hauling distance.”
While WA’s nickel laterite projects have something of a chequered history dating back to the late 1990s when Murrin Murrin, Cawse and Bulong all came on-stream only to be collectively plagued with a slew of ramp-up issues, Ardea is confident its so-called “WINNER” (Water, In-pit Neutraliser and Nickel Enhanced Reserve) strategy will add further value to the development of the GNCP and support the production aspirations of the KNP.
Part of this will involve a resource update of the Goongarrie Line, which is due to be completed during the March quarter, while resource estimation work is – as already mentioned – expected to continue on Highway, which represents a potential high grade satellite ore source for the proposed 2 Mtpa high pressure acid leach (HPAL) planned for the GNCP.
Ardea believes the latest Goongarrie resource update will be another large step forward in this initiative and, in addition to nickel and cobalt resources, will embrace the scandium, manganese and aluminium components.
Follow-up open pit optimisations are anticipated to target over 1% nickel leach feed grade, while plant optimisation will be complemented by mineralised neutraliser.
According to Ardea, neutraliser that can be sourced during open pit mining at Goongarrie is considered a large advantage over peer projects as it reduces the consumables that need to be purchased and transported to site, thereby reducing carbon emissions and lowers operating cost.
Ultimately, the aim is to optimise plant feed grades to the HPAL plant exceeding 1% nickel for at least 15 years. Options such as developing a second GNCP 2Mtpa HPAL train will also be considered, dependent upon the production requirements of the successful strategic partner.